WHEN Australian expatriate Greg Matthew first came to Singapore in 1993, he chose to make his home in the then brand-new Bullion Park condominium in Yio Chu Kang.
When he returned to Singapore eight years later in 2006, he moved back. Bullion Park, was by then a good 13 years old and beginning to look a bit tired. But the 43-year-old deputy principal of the Overseas Family School chose a rented apartment at Bullion Park over the many new condos that had sprouted.
'It's leafy here, and the blocks are very well spread out,' he says. 'And I've had no problems with the management at all.'
Bullion Park is one of 370 self-managed private estates in Singapore that make up just one-fifth of all private estates.
The homeowners there decided to manage the estate themselves some time in the late 1990s because they said they would have greater affinity with the staff under their direct hire.
Hiring a managing agent would have set them back anywhere between $750 and $5,000 a month, over and above other usual expenditures.
Bullion Park now employs three staff - an estate manager, an accounts executive and a technician.
Its estate manager, Mr Albert Ku, 65, is a former police officer who joined the estate as its chief security officer in 1997. He was made estate manager just a few months later.
He has a row of thank-you cards lining the window blinds behind his desk, while the walls of his office are covered with newspaper cuttings on estate management matters.
Home owners in the 472-unit estate currently pay about $300 a month in maintenance and sinking fund contributions.
'We have not increased our fees for the past eight years,' Mr Ku declares proudly, before revealing that Bullion Park has a healthy sinking fund - or reserve - of $3 million.
The estate just completed repainting works and replaced its rooftop water tanks for about $1 million. Next, it is looking to upgrade its lifts and lobbies, as well as retrofit parts of the estate to make it disabled-friendly.
A key priority of the management is to keep a tight watch on the bottom line, so that residents do not have to foot extra costs for upcoming projects.
And it has a system of checks to ensure its funds are in safe hands. Account updates are e-mailed to council members every month, and the bank will call a council member if it receives a cheque to withdraw more than $25,000 from condo funds.
But there are personal touches too. The management rewards diligent gardeners, cleaners and security guards with vouchers from NTUC FairPrice supermarket even though these workers are employed by outside contractors.
Mr Ku says: 'We are just like family. I've worked under five chairmen in my time here and we are like brothers and sisters.
'They don't treat the staff like their employees.'
During his interview with The Straits Times, a woman walked into the office and handed Mr Ku a box of chocolates and thanked him for his help.
He later relates that her seven-year-old son had gone missing the day before. The worried mother, who was not at home then, called the management office for help.
Mr Ku sent a guard to her apartment to check and to wait at the lobby for her son. When the boy eventually appeared, the office called the mother immediately.
There is a friendly atmosphere in the estate that a visitor can sense from staff and residents - one-quarter of whom are tenants from India, the Philippines, China and Europe.
Recently, Mr Matthew bumped into a fellow resident at the pool who remembered him on his first visit more than 10 years ago.
'When I met her again a decade later later, all she could say was 'Oh, you have less hair now!' in a typical Singaporean fashion,' he says with a chuckle.
Source: Straits Times, 1 Aug 2009